Friday Book Whimsy: The Other Daughter

Author Lauren Willig is perhaps best known for her Pink Carnation series, of which I’ve read exactly none. But given that I’ve liked her writing in other stand-alone books, I decided to give The Other Daughter a try.

Rachel Woodly has been tutored, loved, and taught genteel manners by her hard-working mother after her father doesn’t return from a trip. Rachel was told that he died, and because he died so far away (and it was the 1920s), he was buried where he passed away.

She takes a job as a governess for a wealthy society family. She is traveling with the family in France when her mother takes ill. Rachel doesn’t receive word of her mother’s illness until it’s too late. By time she gets home, her mother has passed away.

While cleaning up her mother’s house, she comes across a newspaper clipping that shows a recent photo of her father – not dead, but instead, quite alive, and an Earl with an entire separate family. Rachel is unable to come to grips with this shocking information, and decides to pass herself off as a society woman with the help of a wealthy acquaintance in order to confront her father.

Her plan works, but she unexpectedly grows to like the woman who is her half-sister. Drama ensues as Rachel learns the truth about what happened between her mother and father, and why he has a whole new life. The story is quite compelling.

Willig is a very good writer, and her story kept me turning pages. The Other Daughter is one of her few attempts at writing a novel with a single perspective instead of the back-and-forth-in-time perspectives that have become so popular. I think that was one of the things I liked best about this book.

I enthusiastically recommend The Other Daughter.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Ashford Affair

I’m honestly beginning to think that the more prolific female fiction writers are starting to use plot templates that they got from a secret club to which they all belong, and they simply change the names, locales, and the precise situations to fit the template. What else could account for the oh-so-predictable story line of a busy contemporary professional woman running smack dab into the glass ceiling despite working harder than any man, and then finding out about a family secret that changes their life, while meeting the love of her life in the meantime? What follows is the inevitable back and forth between a character from the late 19th or early 20th century to a more contemporary heroine. It is starting to get so tiresome, and authors are starting to seem so lazy.

I’m afraid that my boredom with this plot technique colored my opinion of The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig. Willig is actually a good writer, so it is a disappointment to see her fall into this same trap. The Ashford Affair’s only saving grace – at least as far as this reader is concerned – is that some of the story takes place in Kenya which made the plot more interesting. The earlier time period is the early 1920s, and I happen to find this period in world history quite interesting.

Clementine Evans has worked her tail off pursuing her dream of making partner in the law firm in which she works in 1999. Unfortunately, her elderly grandmother Addie – who loved Clemmie very much and helped her deal with a disapproving mother – takes a turn for the worse, and is dying. Before she dies, Clemmie becomes aware of a secret that could change everything she knew about her family.

Flashback: Addie’s mother and father are killed when she is 5, and Addie is sent to live with a cold and uncaring aunt and uncle in England. Addie’s only friend is her cousin Bea, who, though only 7, is beautiful and already being groomed to marry well. The two become dear friends until they are grown up and Bea betrays Addie by stealing her boyfriend and marrying him.

Flash forward: When Clemmie’s grandmother dies, she goes to the funeral instead of a meeting she was expected to attend, and is turned down for partnership. Shock. So she and a distant cousin with whom she once had a fling decide to try and solve the mystery of their family’s background.

What follows is a predictable, if well-written, story that was a good enough read to keep me marginally engaged but predictable enough to make me work to try and keep from getting confused with other novels I’ve read.

I can’t unequivocally recommend the book unless you are in the mood for something that won’t require a lot of thinking.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The English Wife

Everything seemed a bit more scandalous in the 19th century, and The English Wife, by Laura Willig, tells a great story that takes place in the 19th century, rich in interesting characters and a lot of unexpected twists and turns served alongside the scandal.

The novel opens as the rich New York City aristocrat Bayard Van Duyvil and his English wife Annabelle are found murdered in the garden outside their home the night of their Twelfth Night party. They are discovered by his sister and his cousin, who hear his last word: George. The crime is initially considered a murder/suicide. However, Annabelle’s body was nowhere to be found. Still, the rumors of her having an affair with the architect who is building their fancy new home continue to feed the flames of speculation.

Bay’s sister Janie is certain her brother would not have killed his wife, and she also doesn’t believe that Annabelle would have had an affair, and sets out to solve the mystery. Assisting her is a journalist who is interested in solving the murder to have the scoop of the century.

Via flashbacks, we learn that Annabelle met Bayard in London where she was working as a burlesque dancer. After a brief courtship, she and Bayard move back to New York City where they live a perfect life.

Or is it? As Janie begins to investigate, she learns more than she ever imagined about her brother, his wife, and she and Bayard’s mother, a woman who thinks so much of herself that she looks down her nose at the Vanderbilts!

Willig dishes out the twists and turns with subtlety and imagination. There were times when I would read something and have to stop to think, “Did I know that?” Little by little, the mystery is solved and I found the ending to be quite unpredictable and satisfying.

I enjoyed this story very much.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Forgotten Room

imgresIt’s certainly not the first time several authors collaborated to write one book, but I believe it might be the first time I have read a novel written by multiple authors.

The long-awaited The Forgotten Room was authored by three well-known and prolific fiction writers, Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig. The three “W’s”. Not too complicated to figure out how to alphabetize on the cover.

Willig is the author of a number of historical romance novels; White has written somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 novels, most taking place in the Low Country of South Carolina. Beatriz Williams has authored five or six period novels. I recently reviewed Tiny Little Thing, which may be one of my favorite reads of 2016 (though I recognize it’s only March).

I don’t know the back story of how these three authors came to write a novel. Nor do I know how they decided who wrote what. The details have been purposely kept secret.

The Forgotten Room is about three women in three different decades, all united in some way by a ruby necklace and a room in an upper New York City mansion. Olive lives in the late 18th Century, the daughter of the man who designed the house, but was mysteriously fired and subsequently committed suicide. She becomes a maid for the family living in the house to find out why her father was fired and never compensated for his work. A decade or so later, her daughter Lucy rents a room in the mansion, which in the Roaring Twenties has become a boarding room for women. Her goal is to find out who was really her father. And finally, Lucy’s daughter Kate, a physician, treats patients in the home which has become a hospital for returning war veterans.

All three women own the necklace at some point, and all three women have history in the forgotten room in the mansion.

I wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book. I liked the idea of this book. I just didn’t find myself drawn into the story.

As mentioned earlier, the authors have not revealed how the book was written. They purport that it was written in round robin style as opposed to each author taking charge of one of the characters. I will say that the writing styles were seamless. I couldn’t tell who wrote which chapter.

But I will also tell you that I just didn’t ever grow to care one bit about any of these three women. Their stories were illogical and implausible. I am fully willing to ignore the implausibility that takes place in most romantic stories. This time, I just couldn’t forgive it.

Each author has a novel coming out soon, and I can’t wait to put this one behind me.

Here is a link to the book.